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What is the National Curriculum?

Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

In this lesson we examine the National Curriculum found in the United Kingdom. We'll cover the act which provided for its establishment and some of the key concepts. A short quiz follows.

National Curriculum

No Child Left Behind. Mention the act in a teacher's break room and you're sure to get a reaction. Ask a K-12 administrator about it and pull up a chair, because you're going to be there for a while. For better or worse, No Child Left Behind is the current curriculum of United States public schools. What does this have to do with the National Curriculum, you say? Well, it just so happens that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 was largely influenced by the policy that brought about the National Curriculum. So, let's dive right in.

In 1988 the United Kingdom established a new educational policy with the passing of the Education Reform Act 1988. This act, probably the most important piece of educational policy in the UK and possibly the world for some time, set up a series of curriculum standards for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. If you're wondering, Scotland has its own rules and let's not get into the whole Ireland issue. The rules established what the UK referred to as the National Curriculum, or a set of subjects and standards for primary and secondary schools. So, first we'll cover the Education Reform Act 1988 and then get into National Curriculum.

Education Reform Act 1988

This act brought about many changes which, if you are familiar with No Child Left Behind, you'll recognize. Let's break down the changes:

  • Choice: The act introduced the idea that parents would have the ability to select a school their child could attend. This idea, like many in the act, has proven to be controversial, with many parents unable to secure their children's admission to their top-choice school.
  • Independent Schools: Originally referred to as City Technology Colleges, but now called academies, schools were allowed to be established as private options for K-12 education. While they do receive some money from the government, they are primarily funded by private donations.
  • Tenure: Academic tenure was eliminated for any teacher who wasn't granted tenure prior to the passing of the act. Ouch.
  • Degree: The act set strict limits on what can and cannot be called a degree.
  • Key Stages and National Curriculum: These two sections of the act established the National Curriculum and the methods of assessing educational objectives.

At Last We Meet the National Curriculum

The National Curriculum is a fairly straightforward concept. The goal was to standardize the content taught across all schools in the countries and, by virtue of the Education Reform Act 1988, to give parents the ability to exercise choice in what schools their children attended. National Curriculum has two aims - to establish curriculum which provides opportunities for all pupils to learn and achieve, and to promote pupils' spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development while preparing them for the opportunities, responsibilities, and experiences of life. The second aim, particularly the spiritual aspect, has provoked some controversy by requiring schools to incorporate religious teachings into their curriculum.

An important aspect of the National Curriculum is the use of key stages, which set the expected knowledge of a student at a particular point. Each of the key stages has a set of particular objectives a student should meet by the end of the stage. For example, a student at the end of key stage 1 will take a standardized assessment to test their abilities in reading, writing, speaking and listening, math, and science. Performance on these assessments, combined with teacher recommendations, determines how a student advances.

The key stages are as follows:

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